After the scandal at Arlington, which included mismarked and unmarked graves and people buried in the wrong spots, some veterans groups and members of Congress had called for the cemetery, which is run by the Army, to be transferred to the VA.
Although many of the errors at Arlington were caused by an antiquated paper-record system, VA officials said the problems at seven of its national cemeteries were largely the result of sloppy work during renovations. Headstones and markers were temporarily removed from the ground and reinserted in the wrong places.
Staff members at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio were testing the accuracy of a new cemetery map in July, for instance, and realized that 47 markers were one space over from where they were supposed to be.
The problem, they discovered, arose from a 2004 project to regrade the soil and realign the markers, which tend to shift as the ground moves. The markers were lifted and put back one plot away from the correct grave site.
The error resulted in four people being buried in the wrong places. To save space at sought-after national cemeteries, family members are typically buried in the same plot. Because the headstones were in the wrong spots, some people were not buried with their loved ones.
A similar problem was discovered in November at Houston National Cemetery. In 2002, after a similar renovation, 14 grave markers were put in the wrong places. No one noticed the error at the time. A person was then buried in what officials thought was a family member’s grave site; it was actually one plot over.
VA officials first publicly acknowledged the problems after The Washington Post asked about the cemetery audits. In an interview Monday, Glenn Powers, the National Cemetery Administration’s deputy undersecretary for field operations, said the VA is working to put all headstones in the right places and attempting to contact affected families to explain and apologize. But because the affected graves cover a long period — from decades ago to recent years — it might be impossible to locate all the next of kin, he said.
“We strive to operate the best cemetery system in the world, and if something like this happens, there is no excuse,” Powers said. “The amount of times this happens is rare. But there is no margin of error; there shouldn’t be any kind of error. . . . We need to learn and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
In addition to the cemeteries in Texas, he said, problems have been discovered at national burial grounds in Ohio, New Mexico, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The cemetery administration is waiting on reports from Golden Gate and San Francisco National Cemeteries.